I’m writing this after watching the series finale of a show I love. And while I won’t get into specifics (because let’s be real, that’s not why you’re here), that’s weighing heavily on my mind as I’m sitting here in awe that something fictional can have such a strong impact on my emotional well-being. Not just me. Thousands of people.
Sometimes we forget how powerful stories are.
How impactful they can be.
When you’re sitting alone in front of a computer screen and you’re squeezing a story out of your brain one sentence at a time, it’s easy to completely ignore the fact that while your words are important and your work matters, without the emotional weight of the story you are trying to tell, it’s all meaningless.
I just finished reading a book I didn’t care for, and it took me until now to realize it wasn’t the writing or the characters or the subject matter that lost me. It was the lack of emotion I felt while reading it. I wanted to care about what happened to each character. But I didn’t. I felt nothing.
And that made what could have been an entertaining book seem almost pointless to me.
That’s not what you want your audience to take away from your story … is it?
A good story isn’t just a story that says something powerful or is written in captivating prose.
A good story is one that reaches deep into the soul of the reader and forms an inseparable bond with them.
That connection is key. And so many stories never get around to making it.
Sometimes we’re afraid to go that deep, to write things that strike nerves and invade people’s most private spaces within themselves. We fear that because it’s challenging, because emotions aren’t always easy to deal with and we don’t want to be the one to make a stranger dissolve into their feelings, even for only a moment.
But we HAVE to be the one to do that. Because that’s what stories are supposed to do: Affect. As the writer of a story, it’s your job to recognize that certain events in your narrative are going to hit people where it hurts. As long as you’re sensitive and inclusive, not offensive, not deliberately targeting someone for something outside their control in a mean-spirited way, it’s your responsibility. It’s your responsibility to make people feel things when they read or listen to or watch your stories.
Don’t ever shy away from that. Use your powers for good, please, but don’t avoid making people feel sad or irritable because you’ve told a story they can relate to in some way. Yes, there are people who use stories as an escape. But there are just as many people who find comfort in being shown, though a story, how they need to change. How they need to be better. How they need to move forward.
Humans are driven by emotion. So too, then, should the stories they tell, and the stories they consume.
Don’t just make your characters believable. Make them relatable on a deeply personal level. Cross that invisible line you’re hesitant to cross. Make your readers think. Force your audience to face their own emotions.
Many people you encounter, if you ask them which story has meant the most to them in their lives, will have an answer at the ready. The stories that stick with us are the ones we see ourselves in, whether we want to or not.
Don’t just be emotionally invested. Give your readers a reason to attach themselves emotionally to your characters and the things they go through.
So many writers say they want to change the world. Well maybe this is how we do it.
One broken heart at a time.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.